How Do You Get Rid Of Bougainvillea Thorns?

Pruning your bonsai tree is essential, but you need to watch out for Bougainvillea thorns. Some of them have side effects that can make you ill, while others cause minor skin irritations. The last thing you want is your miniature tree making you feel worse instead of at peace.

In this guide, we’ll take an extensive look into what Bougainvillea thorns can do to you and how to remove them.

bougainvillea thorns

How Do You Get Rid Of Thorns On Bougainvillea?

While Bougainvillea thorns can hurt you and possibly cause some skin problems, they form an integral part of your bonsai. There’s no reason to remove them unless it’s part of the pruning process. You’ll cut them off with the branch that you’re taking from your small tree.

Here are a few ways you can ensure you safely remove thorns from Bougainvillea bonsais as part of your regular maintenance.

Protective Gear

When you work with Bougainvillea thorns, it’s best to wear the appropriate clothing to avoid any of them scratching open your skin. How much protective clothing you wear depends on how large your bonsai tree is. If you bought a large plant that you plan to prune down, we recommend that you cover everywhere possible.

Firstly, you need thick gloves for your hands, as the long thin thorns will easily break through a thin fabric. You should have long sleeves and a pair of pants if the Bougainvillea is bushy, and don’t forget to wear boots or shoes with thick soles. You’d be surprised how easy it is to step on cuttings, letting the thorns pierce your foot.

We also recommend wearing eyewear to shield your eyes, especially if this is your first time pruning Bougainvillea thorns. You may be inspecting the branches close up and accidentally hit the stem onto your eyes. It can happen quickly, and you don’t want thorns to meet your eyes.

Proper Tools

You should aim for long-handled pruning shears to avoid your fingers getting too close to the thorns, even with your protective gloves. If you’re dealing with a massive bush you want to cut down to size, you may even want to go for large loppers. It all depends on how thick and long the branches are and how much foliage you have to deal with.

Another aspect you need to consider is keeping the tools clean and sharp. You don’t want to struggle with cutting the thorns and branches. Also, you should sterilize the shears before and after you use them. This protects the Bougainvillea and your other bonsais from transferring any sap or diseases.

Planning Ahead

Before you start chopping away at the Bougainvillea thorns, you need a plan of action. You need to keep in mind that you need a design for your bonsai style, and you can’t simply prune at a whim. Walk around your small tree and work out how you want it to look in the end.

If you’re only removing dead parts of the tree, it will be an easy maintenance plan. For the vigorous part of the growing season, you may want to trim strategically to encourage more flowers when summer arrives. When it’s the heart of winter and you’re dealing with a dormant Bougainvillea, you can prune for design, shedding thorns and branches for the coming spring.

Pruning Methodology

The time has come to carefully prune your Bougainvillea thorns and branches. If you’re working on a massive tree with long stems, you shouldn’t dive all the way down to get to the base. There’s a risk of you receiving many cuts along the way, and there’s a safer approach you can take.

Cut along the long branch in sections until your reach the desired length. When you reach other thorns from neighboring stems, you can carefully clip them off. If you plan to keep those branches and only remove the thorns, you may need to apply a sealant when too much sap runs out, losing nutrients.

Pinching Away

When stems are young and new, they are thin with small thorns. You shouldn’t cut these with tools, as it may cause long-term damage to the entire branch. You’ll need to use an approach called pinching, which is also performed under fading flowers to encourage new growth.

You can wear thin gardening gloves for the task. Carefully grab the thin stem between two fingers and attempt to pinch it until it breaks. You should feel your fingertips cut into the fleshy insides of the branch and pull away easily. Try not to be too rough, and watch out for older thorns on other branches around your hand.

bougainvillea thorns

Do Bougainvillea Thorns Have Toxins?

Bougainvillea thorns are mildly toxic. Many experts recommend you keep them away from animals, especially dogs and cats. It seems to have a more severe effect on these pets, especially if they become tangled in the branches. Since you’ll probably place your bonsai outside to soak up the sun, it’s best to place it on a shelf or in an area they are less likely to go.

Also, make sure you keep it out of reach of children. You can educate them on your Bougainvillea bonsai and explain what will happen if the thorns prick their skin. This advice will go a long way into keeping them safe and their hands off your small tree.

What Happens If You Step On A Bougainvillea Thorn?

When you step on a Bougainvillea thorn, it can scratch open your skin depending on where it penetrates. They are sharp and thin, but you need to ensure that nothing breaks off inside your foot when you try to remove them.

While you may suffer from skin irritation or a rash, the thorn is the last of your worries. The opening can cause small pathogenic organisms to enter. You’ll need to disinfect the wound first before applying a bandage. Inspect it every day, and if it gets worse, you may need to seek medical advice.

What Are The Common Side Effects Of Bougainvillea Thorns?

One of the top symptoms after Bougainvillea thorns scratch you is dermatitis. It’s a rash that forms around the wounded area, which may become itchy. You shouldn’t really see any swelling unless you disturb the opening and touch it too much.

There are other problems that may arise, depending on how allergic you are to the toxins in the thorns. Some of these include itching, pain, stinging, burning, scaly rash, blisters, and sores. In mild cases, you can get a cream or remedy over the counter at the pharmacy, but you’ll need to see a dermatologist in more extreme cases.

bougainvillea thorns

Do All Bougainvillea Plants Have Thorns?

All the official Bougainvillea species have thorns, with the main difference being the number, length, and thickness. When you buy a bonsai tree, you should expect to see several thorns if it has bushy foliage.

There are some cultivars that don’t have thorns, though. For instance, Miss Alice with its gorgeous white flower clusters has none at all, so it’s safe to handle. There’s another type called Singapore Pink, which is a sister cultivar to Miss Alice. It has a small number of thorns, and it’s considered to be semi-thornless.

How to Protect Yourself from Bougainvillea Thorns

The best way to protect yourself is by wearing the right protective gear. Gloves are mandatory, especially when you’re dealing with a massive Bougainvillea with thick thorns. If you’re going to plunge your arm between branches, you need long sleeves to shield it from harm.

Your feet should also have cover so you don’t step on any cuttings or thorns that have fallen on the floor. If you are planning to prune the bonsai on the ground, you should also wear a long pair of pants, just in case. Be sure to keep your eyes protected too, as you don’t want a thorn to cut into them.

bougainvillea thorns

Final Thoughts

While Bougainvillea thorns have mild toxins, they shouldn’t have a terrible impact on you unless there’s been severe skin tear or penetration. As with all bonsais, you need to take care when pruning and handling them, as prevention is the best cure. If you take the right precautions, nothing bad will happen to you.

However, we understand that accidents do happen. If you feel incredibly ill, you need to go see a doctor to assist you. They’ll have the appropriate medicine to take the rash or sickness away, and they’ll have expert advice on any allergies you might have.

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Shaun has two passions in life that combine into an extravagant show on Bonsai Alchemist. The one is for writing and the second bonsais. He’s been writing fantasy and horror novels since 2000, while also creating online content since 2015. He’s involved with writing for films and games. Finally, he’s also the owner of a book publishing company.

He received his first bonsai as a gift in 2009 and has been growing several species in his quiet home in South Africa. He prefers propagating new life instead of buying bonsais at the store. His son and daughter share his love for nature, while his wife stares on at her introverted hermit husband.


Shaun M Jooste


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